Public may give council clues tonight on ways to battle deficit Increased taxes are one option

The County Council may get its first indication tonight if it will be politically palatable to raise taxes to help offset the county's impending financial crisis.

The county is expected to start the coming fiscal year with a $20 million deficit and no way to cover it short of radically cutting services or radically increasing taxes.


One bill being considered at tonight's public hearing would help keep property tax revenues low by limiting assessment increases to 5 percent for the third year in a row.

Last year, the assessment cap cost the county about $2 million. State law requires counties to set a cap at 10 percent or less.


The council is expected to hear arguments for lifting the ceiling.

Other ways the county could increase revenue would be to raise the property tax rate -- it currently is $2.59 per $100 of assessed value -- and to raise the so-called piggyback income tax rate.

Local income taxes are called piggyback because they represent a percentage of a person's state income tax bill. The Howard County portion is 50 percent. State law allows counties to collect 60 percent.

Another measure being considered tonight would give tax credits to property owners who lease a portion of their property to religious institutions. If enacted, the bill would require landlords to use those credits to reduce the rent they charge those religious institutions.

In boom times, both the assessment cap and the tax credit might receive popular support because they lessen tax burdens. But with the county hurting for income, both bills may be opposed by people who want the county to maintain its current level of services. Regardless, the measures should provide a clue as to whether the public prefers to reduce services or raise taxes to balance next year's budget.

A third bill that could affect next year's budget would authorize overtime and compensatory time for some employees not covered by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

The remaining legislation on tonight's public hearing agenda would enact amended and totally rewritten subdivision regulations.

The rewritten regulations add guidelines for protection of historic resources, amend site development plan procedures, as well as requirements for road rights-of-way, lot layouts, open space, landscaping and other required improvements. The council will hold a work session on the legislation tomorrow night. It will vote on the measures Dec. 7.